Saturday, March 31, 2018

Justice League


One probably has to cut this film some slack to a certain degree. Because it had a very tough act to follow. How exactly were they supposed to top Marvel's The Avengers? Personally, my answer would be that you can't and you should just do what you want and not worry too much about competition, because it's too late for that. But instead they tried. And tried so hard--and yet they missed the mark. So badly. 

To clarify: this isn't a bad movie at all, but given the level of expectations and the perceived scope, it's quite underwhelming. One arguably could have expected this, given some of the issues that the other DC Extended Universe films so far had. But it's still kind of depressing no matter what when a supposedly monumental event movie like this comes up, and it falls as short as it does. 

This movie's plot actually is very similar to The Avengers. A bad guy named Steppenwolf invades with his army of Parademons, who is looking for the "Mother Boxes" -- three cubes of insane and rather vague power. (So they're basically the Tesseract, but there's only three of them.) So he can do what? Destroy the world. In the wake of the death of Superman, Bruce Wayne/Batman is forced to put together a team (how many times have you heard *that* in the last five years?), which includes Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. 

Interestingly enough, this movie's kind of a different beast from its predecessors. It's far less convoluted, for one thing. But it also kind of ditches some of the strengths of its predecessors. One thing that did set apart the DC movies was the darker tone. That's mostly gone, in favor of a much more inconsistent tone. Sometimes it is still kind of dark. But sometimes it's also much lighter. And sometimes... I don't think even it knows what it is. Also, one thing that these films had been good at in the past was a good climactic fight. Here? Well, it doesn't suck; but it's not nearly as well-done either. That's probably in part because because of the extremely overdone CGI, and also in part because of the shockingly generic villain that is Steppenwolf. 

As for the heroes themselves? Well, depends upon which one we're talking about. Batman isn't really given as much to do this time; kind of understandable since he can't fight against Steppenwolf, but he even struggles with Parademons. He's just kind of there most of the time. Wonder Woman remains one of the better things about the franchise; an early scene where she dispatches some terrorists is one of the better scenes in the movie. The Flash is pretty cool, and also provides some comic relief. Aquaman is better than you'd expect... though that's not really saying much, and I'm still very skeptical of his upcoming movie. Cyborg has some interesting powers, but he suffers the most from another glaring issue: lack of character development. That's mostly because this movie is too short for a movie of this scope, but Cyborg suffers the issue the worst.

And speaking of being too short... that's probably the biggest problem altogether. People complained Batman vs Superman was too long, and maybe they were kind of right. But this is a movie that you need to be longer than just 120 minutes, in part for the sake of character development--which is all the more important when half the characters haven't been introduced before. And really, this whole thing just feels so rushed. The bad guy attacks. The team gets together. One massive event happens about two-thirds of the way through which creates one of the more interesting scenes of the movie. Then the team is established. Then the final battle happens. Then... well, that's it. 

For all of the elements that feel either all too familiar or lifeless, there's still some good to be found here. Some of the action scenes are still pretty fun. Wonder Woman is still great regardless. And while some of the humor is a bit forced, some of it's still pretty good and it's not overdone. And there is still something to be said for watching guys like Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash team up even if the result is a bit underwhelming.

Justice League smells of a film that had a troubled production, and the film definitely suffers for it. It's not a total failure, but it is definitely frustrating when you know it could've been so much better. While there's still some hope for the franchise yet with the threat of Darkseid (DC's Thanos) looming, one has to wonder if the franchise will last long enough to get to that point. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Sherlock Holmes (2009)


The only character I can think of who may have had more iterations of themselves in the past decade than Spider-Man is... Sherlock Holmes. We have this movie franchise. We have Benedict Cumberbatch's rendition. We have that "Elementary" show. There's another movie coming out later this year that's supposedly a more comedic rendition. And there's another movie that happened recently that was more under the radar. The Cumberbatch version has become the most well known. And while there are some great performances in that show as well, this version holds up pretty good. That is, if you like the idea of a more action-hero version of Sherlock Holmes. 

This version takes place still in the 1890s--with Robert Downey Jr as the famous detective, and with Jude Law as Dr. Watson. By the events of this movie, the two have been working together for apparently some time (so no "origin story" here). And in this version, both Sherlock and Watson have the ability to actually physically take down bad guys. Sherlock himself is able to use his deductive reasoning abilities often to predict how a fight will go and thus win it before it even starts--which only happens twice here, but is totally awesome. Pretty much any action scene here in this movie is pretty thrilling due to stylish direction from Guy Ritchie. 

What isn't quite as awesome is the bad guy... and his plot. We're given Lord Blackwood, who isn't exactly a name even book fans will be familiar with. This guy has a thing for... ritual murders. Yup, he's into the occult. And as a matter of fact, we even get to see an entire secret society that believes in supernatural magic... for some reason. (Spoiler alert: this is still the real world.) And while their ultimate goals are kind of interesting, Blackwood's plan and his actions are quite convoluted. And really, the whole idea of supernatural magic (real or not) being involved in a Holmes movie doesn't work as well as some of this movie's other ideas. 

As kind of oddball and forgettable as the villain and his plot is, much of the rest of this is still pretty enjoyable. As mentioned before, the action is quite fun. Some of the dialogue and wordplay is clever too, though you might have to be paying attention for that. The chemistry between the two lead actors is good, and Rachel McAdams and Mark Strong also do well in their roles (even if the latter is playing a forgettable character, he still has the presence). Hans Zimmer also delivers a unique soundtrack. 

This version of Sherlock Holmes is not without its issues. The pacing might be a little inconsistent for some. But it's still often pretty enjoyable and shows a lot of promise; it's clear here that this would've been even better if we had a decent villain/villainous plot. It's still worth a spin, though. At this point in time some people may be reluctant to see Sherlock as anyone other than Benedict Cumberbatch, but this version stands on its own just fine for the most part. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Reel Analysis Awards for 2017 Films

I know, I know. The awards season is already over. The Oscars had their fun a couple weeks ago. But I'll be up front. Besides being an avid movie fan, I also enjoy watching sports--and March Madness snuck up on me. I did not plan ahead for this week and I am left with barely any time in the mornings before the games start to actually watch something. So therefore, something completely different this week.

And these aren't gonna be average "best of the year" awards either. I do not watch hardly any of the independent drama material that the Academy--among other award organizations--pushes forth. Full disclosure: I have only seen one of the movies that was nominated for Best Picture (Dunkirk) and I have little interest in any of the others. No, the films you will see here are of the sort that I actually do watch--mostly action/adventure and sci-fi, with a light sprinkling of animation and drama included. Stuff that in a time when cinema is heavily saturated with the action genre, some critics are predisposed to not give these films much of a chance--or if they do, it won't be making their Top 10 list. This will be oriented to the more casual moviegoer... with what I can only hope is a more objective lens than normal.

So, here is how this is going to go: first, I will do a basic Top 5 list of my favorites from 2017. Then there will be a few other one-off categories: Most Underrated, Most Underwhelming, Most Overrated, and so on. Some of the more prolific movies here you have probably already seen, but ones you haven't... well, you could still get some insight on those. I won't be going too in-depth with stuff like Best Actor, Best Visuals, etc... just including random categories I feel like including.

Disclaimer: There are still a couple of 2017 films on my list I haven't been able to see yet (Coco and Justice League, specifically), so those will not appear on this post. Fortunately, they were quite unlikely to appear on the Top 5 anyway.

Top 5 Movies of the Year

5. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

This is a bit of a strange one. It's quite a fun trip with a few of the most hilarious scenes of the year and is also a visual treat. But as a whole it's still not as memorable as its predecessor and is also the least memorable on this Top 5 list. I kind of struggled with this fifth spot and almost put in Dunkirk--but for pure entertainment's sake, this film is more enjoyable. Dunkirk might be more well-made in other facets... but this list is still subject to personal opinion. I know. Crazy, right?

4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi 

I enjoyed The Force Awakens, but I was also underwhelmed by it due in part to often rehashing the original Star Wars--complete with Death Star III. The Last Jedi was more of a twist and turned filled journey and was ultimately closer to what I was hoping for out of new Star Wars movies in the first place. There are definitely a handful of headscratching issues here, but the important thing is this: do not dismiss this movie simply because some hardcore fans think it's too different or whatever they're complaining about. If anything, that's what makes this movie work.

3. Wonder Woman

Well, if I was gonna include any superhero movies here I had to include this one right? Seriously though, Wonder Woman is pretty much the best thing about the DC Extended Universe. Her own movie gets off to a bit of a slow start, but rectifies that pretty much the rest of the way. People have been waiting for a superheroine to carry a movie like this and they got one. It's no gimmick, either. This is a pretty doggone good movie.

2. War for the Planet of the Apes

The last two entries here fall into the somewhat more intellectual category--particularly this one, if only because there aren't a lot of actual action scenes here. Yet the movie is still quite compelling. Probably the worst thing about this movie is the misleading title--there isn't much of a war here. And the ending is a little underwhelming. But you know what? This is still an insanely well directed movie and Andy Serkis really outdoes himself. If this is the last entry in the series, I blame Spider-Man for eating up so much of the Apes' box office money.

1. Logan

Not only this is ultimately my favorite movie of the year, it's also the biggest surprise. Unlike most, I was skeptical of an R-rated Wolverine movie--I was worried that they would just go for a gorefest without regard to story. Shocker: this movie is actually really, really good. It is also brutal to watch on multiple levels. It is not recommended for the faint of heart. But this is arguably about as good a conclusion to Hugh Jackman's career as Wolverine as we could have asked for.

Most Underrated Movie: The Circle. I do not understand for the life of me how this got trashed as badly as it did. It's got some direction and script issues, but it's an alarming cautionary tale that might make you apprehensive about Facebook, among other things.

Most Overrated Movie: Thor - Ragnarok. First off, I did enjoy this movie quite a bit--it was one of the funnier ones of the year. But there is no way it's the best Marvel movie. It cannot decide whether it wants to take itself seriously or not, and the cop-out ending (where a serious event is made to mean basically nothing) is ridiculous. Still a fun movie, but a bit overrated.

Most Underwhelming Movie: The LEGO Ninjago MovieYikes. This movie had some funny moments, but it was so far off from the other LEGO movies that it's hard to believe they approved this final cut.

Funniest Movie: The LEGO Batman MovieThis movie is basically a parody for the two-thirds of it or so. And even after that, it's still hilarious. Much like the first LEGO Movie, it has a weirdly different tone in the climactic act but that doesn't stop it from being a fun experience.

Biggest Surprise (besides Logan): Spider-Man - Homecoming. This is still a lower tier MCU movie. But the fact that this didn't feel like a tired rehash and that the latest rendition of Spider-Man actually worked despite being the third one in the last 10 years is a doggone miracle.

Worst Movie: The Emoji Movie. Okay, okay. I didn't actually see this. But come on, we all know this is the worst.

Worst Movie That I Actually SawThe Boss Baby. How this abomination ever got nominated for a Best Animated Feature, I'll never know. It's with garbage like this where parents need to draw the line and not listen to their kids begging to see it. It does not help that films like this are only delaying the release of How to Train Your Dragon 3.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)


Here is one of the unexpected things in 2017 cinema: Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie making a resurgence. It's the old "whodunit" tale--somebody is murdered, and a famous detective has to solve the case. I guess Hollywood decided it was okay to try something else in that department since recent adaptions of Sherlock Holmes in cinema and TV have been going quite well. 

Here's the thing about these kind of "whodunit" tales, though. You have to make them stand out in one way or another, because the same old "murder mystery" routine can get old after a while. There are two ways to do this--make the main characters/actors stand out (as has happened in recent adaptions of Sherlock), or have an unusual twist to your murder mystery. The film had the opportunity to do both given the source material and the cast. The results are a little mixed, however.

If one is not familiar with the "Murder on the Orient Express" tale, then there is little that can be said without spoiling one of the most famous murder mystery plot twists of all time. Basically, a businessman is murdered on a train and Poirot, one of Agatha Christie's two mainstay detectives, has to solve a case in which clues and suspects abound. 

Here's the deal with this movie. It's nearly impossible to ruin the twist that the book is known for. However, everything else can be up for grabs. This film deviates from the source material a little bit in other ways (non-critical ways, mind you); a couple of which are not very effective. Namely, the decision to throw in a couple action sequences with Poirot. These just do not work; Poirot is by no means an action hero here. And these scenes just are not that overly exciting. 

Also, there is a mysterious lost love interest we are shown in a photo from Poirot's past *three times.* And they never even attempt to explain that. Further on, the ending itself (after the big twist) has a slight change of its own; it may not seem like much, but if you still remember either the book or the 1974 movie (or you have your memory refreshed, like I did), it's a strange change to what character makes what decisions. Finally, there's the portrayal of Poirot himself. While most of the cast is excellent (more on that later), Kenneth Branagh's portrayal of Poirot is a little mixed. While he definitely has his moments, there are also times when he seems like he's trying too hard. 

So what works? Well, this is still an excellent and rather different tale. The plot twist is still a big one, and the ending (though it may be alarming to some) is still very different and more thoughtful than normal in its genre. And there is a very strong cast in here. This includes Branagh himself (despite his mixed performance), Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, and Penelope Cruz. Michelle Pfeiffer and Josh Gad are also pleasant surprises; I was a little skeptical on those two castings (particularly Gad, because of Frozen) but they both did well. 

Even with certain flaws, it's still kind of hard to go wrong with a tale that good and with a cast that good as well. One can't really shake the feeling that it could have been better, but it's still a decent time. The fact that few movies like this exist might be an attracting factor for some. I'm not sure how a proposed sequel with another Poirot mystery may go (since Orient Express is pretty much the pinnacle), but we'll see. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018



Gore Verbinski is mostly known for directing the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Since then, he has not done much. There was that weird modern-day adaption of The Lone Ranger, but that one was average at best. And there's his most recent work, A Cure for Wellness... which I do not think anyone actually watched. But there was one other post-POTC project where he (and everyone else involved) showed greatness: a slightly overlooked animated film called Rango. 

Rango is a very unique film. It's a spaghetti western of sorts--or at least a tribute to the mostly-gone genre--but it's also an animated film that was marketed to kids, despite stretching the limits of the PG rating as much as it possibly could. It's a strange film to describe, actually. It's about a lizard (named Rango) who has a flare for acting that finds himself stuck in the Mojave Desert after his cage is knocked out of a car. And he stumbles upon a town that is basically every movie western town ever--only it's tiny to the human eye and run by critters. Where water is currency. And that currency is disappearing. And after a handful of circumstances, he gets made the town's sheriff and has to solve the mystery--all while he himself is not really even sure what kind of story he's in. 

Admittedly, the movie itself is not really sure what kind of story it is. But the unconventional formula it deploys really works--a spaghetti western involving critters that still takes place in the modern-day world and delves often into total randomness (a little dash of Monty Python-esque humor style, arguably). But really, it's a competent enough story that's carried by its affectionate parodying and the hilarity strewn throughout. This is a very funny movie with jokes of multiple types thrown at you. All the while, the film does not lose sight of the main story. 

The animation also helps. It was done by Industrial Light & Magic in their first foray into animation--and the film is just straight up incredible to look at. There is an excellent level of detail on the various animals--and really, everything else too. They really created a truly convincing western-style setting for a computer-animated movie. The voice cast is also excellent--which includes Johnny Depp in the lead role, Isla Fisher, Bill Nighy, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina (though you may not recognize him at all), and others. 

This is still a bizarre film though. It pulls it off in a good way, but a lot of it sounds strange when you say it, especially if you're expecting this film to be more serious. This film includes a hawk that can operate a vending machine, a rattlesnake with a Gatling gun for a rattle, an "owl mariachi" band (no, seriously), and a strange unexplained apparition scene involving a parody of... Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" himself. Now these random things that are thrown in really work and are either hilarious or awesome; but there are a couple weird bits that don't work as well. For example: a scene involving the releasing of water to the townspeople by way of turning a valve that's turned into a spiritual ceremony, or a part where pillbugs come to life in a horde and carry Rango somewhere--which is really just ripping off that stupid crab scene from POTC: At World's End (you didn't think we'd notice, did you Verbinski?). 

Rango is serious in basic tone, but also not very serious because of the humor thrown throughout. It's one of those rare films that manages to find that medium between the two and actually be successful at it. Rango is a unique experience of an animated film. It's definitely worth a look, unless you just really hate westerns. It's such an oddball film but still succeeds on most fronts. It's a shame Industrial Light & Magic have not really done anything in animation since--and that Gore Verbinski has not done really anything good since this either.